Present Hunting & Writing

I don’t do much, if any, of the Christmas shopping for my two daughters. It’s not that I think it’s beneath me or believe it’s my wife’s responsibility. She’s just superior to me and so I defer to her. Every year she finds phenomenal deals, and I keep our girls entertained while their mom goes on the hunt. This year, however, the dynamic changed. My wife got swindled.

The Leap Frog LeapPad (http://www.leapfrog.com/leappad/#/) is all the rage this season, as my wife figured it would be. Therefore, she purchased one from an online outlet a month ago at a deep discount. As of yesterday it hadn’t arrived. She’d emailed repeatedly, to no avail. Frustrated, she put me in charge.

I quickly surmised from the website’s appearance and lack of contact information (no phone number or physical address) we’d been had. A quick search of the company’s name and I found numerous links screaming for people to avoid the site and how to contact the Better Business Bureau.

 

What was I, a veritable newb at this game, supposed to do now that the one gift my eldest daughter truly desires, and that we were forthright in purchasing, wasn’t going to materialize? To be honest, I got into my writer’s mindset and asked: How are you going to solve this?

 

So often I paint my characters into corners. To some that may seem like poor plotting, but to me, I like the challenge. In fact, once I began writing Tap Out, I realized the best way to proceed from chapter to chapter was to make my protagonist’s life increasingly difficult. At every plot turn I asked: All right, how can you make this worse for him? Sadistic, yes, but compelling, also yes. This design created a slew of logical problem-solving scenarios that were not too different from the Christmas dilemma I was staring down.

I got on the phone and called everywhere within a 25 mile radius. Nothing in stock and no idea if stock would be coming in. I checked online. Out of stock everywhere. Did I want to gamble with ebay? No. I sat at my computer and felt awful, much like I’ve felt so many times when a story doesn’t work because I went too far down that rabbit hole with no notion of what I needed to do along the way. I was in the corner, but this time I couldn’t delete and revise.

 

I felt sick. I texted my wife. She felt sick. Our eldest has the disposition of a nun, is the most wholesome and caring seven-year-old I know. Yes, I’m biased, but strangers comment on her manners as well (my youngest, eh, that’s a whole other post). Given that my eldest truly believes in Santa, and considering how much she deserves the gift not just wants it, I couldn’t give up.

One last shot: craigslist. Merry Christmas. A woman five minutes away was selling two Leap Pads and the mark up wasn’t a gouge. I called (I know, I couldn’t believe she listed her number either), and we made arrangements, and over my lunch break I made the purchase.

I did it. I figured it out and succeeded. It felt so much like finishing that scene or chapter or knowing when a character is fully realized because of a trait you stumbled upon. It was a score, big time. But it got better.

I called my wife and told her the good news and she was elated, but then she asked me, “What did you write in your email to that company?”

My stomach plunged. In my fit of anger over being taken, I had fired off a terse email, but one that included evidence of the company’s malfeasance.

“What happened? What did I do?” I asked, certain now I was going to be sued.

Evidently, my writing skills were off the charts. The company had contacted my wife, apologized and refunded her money, all while I was out on the hunt.

Successful days like this do not happen often, at least not for me. More often, I struggle to find the interesting way out of a scenario or into a plot twist. That’s because I care about my writing and never feel it’s good enough. As I should. Complacency is a killer. Just as being complacent would have decimated my chances at succeeding for my daughter.

Should I feel so compelled to buy that one item? No. That’s materialistic, and not how I live or want to raise my children. The underlying issue isn’t, however, about the thing, it’s the process. My daughter would have been fine without the gift. I’m certain given her self-deprecating ways she would have chalked it up to some failure of her character. She’s not selfish nor spoiled. She’s the kid you root for. Just like I do for my characters. And for them I’ll do anything, so why not her?

I wish you all well with any last-minute shopping and writing. Be logical, stay calm, use your gift of words, and imagine a way through.

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